Dutch ter Steege, a legendary race car driver in Oklahoma known for a feisty, competitive spirit, died Friday from complications of a massive stroke he suffered July 19. He was 77.
Born Sietse ter Steege in Valburg, Holland, the “Flying Dutchman” as he was known, raced dirt cars in Oklahoma since 1964. He logged more than 900 races and 7,000 laps alone at Taft Stadium and State Fair Speedway, once the main hubs of racing in Oklahoma City. Ter Steege also raced in Kansas and Texas in a distant era when “poor-boy racers” like Dutch could afford to travel on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
Ter Steege won just one season championship, a modified title in 1986 at State Fair, but his status as a local icon was built behind a gritty never-give-up attitude that would frustrate some drivers and motivate others.
Although small in stature, ter Steege had no qualms about approaching a bigger man in the pits after an injustice on the racetrack. But he was also known as a racer who offered advice, tools or spare parts to fellow drivers trying to fix a crippled car before the big-money A feature.
“I remember at Taft, those guys (drivers) would beat the hell out of each other on Friday night, then they would all meet somewhere on Saturday and go fishin',” ter Steege told The Oklahoman in a 1998 interview. “But whenever something went wrong and I knew I was right, I'd argue with them until the morning.”
Ter Steege immigrated to the U.S. at age 23 in 1958, more than a decade after he witnessed American and British bombers destroy German positions in his native Holland during World War II. Ter Steege's landing point in America was Oklahoma City, where he was sponsored by Scott Chevrolet on Broadway.
He lived in a garage apartment at the home of car dealer R.T. Scott and learned English by watching television. Ter Steege had raced motorcycles in Holland and even played for The Netherlands' national soccer team; his jersey No. 7 graced his race-car side panels for five decades.